It’s a strange place to have an epiphany, the fourth-floor hotel lobby of a Hampton Inn in Terra Haute, Indiana. But that’s where this thought started.
Let me start here. I’ve always bristled a little bit at the “thank you for your service” comments to military services members. I don’t have anything against the military, but my politics are not in favor of a hawkish U.S. and more fall into that category of people who cite the problems we could solve with just 10% of what we spend on the military.
And it doesn’t help there is a general adoration in our society to the military from reserved parking spaces outside of supermarkets (sadly taking the place of expectant mother spaces—there’s a swords into ploughshares metaphor there somewhere) to the way airports and go out of their way (particularly in military base towns) to offer perks to those who have served. There also is an unspoken rule against criticizing soldiers, and rightly so given lessons learned with returning soldiers from Vietnam (though ‘wrongly so’ by church groups that treat military service as a graceful act akin St. Francis holding up a bluebird).
I’m not against people choosing to serve. I actually think it’s a rather noble profession, perhaps even a calling. But still, if I am being honest, I am one of the people who say “Thank you for your service” and then grumble things like “and enjoy your mortgage benefits, college waivers and reverence from a society because you couldn’t think of any other good options when adulthood choices.” Sure, I know. Not really fair, but that’s what I feel. And I suppose if there is anything good that came from this hot-garbage, train-wreck of a presidency is a new-found voice to saw what I think. #specialsnowflake
Ok, so back to my epiphany. Full disclosure, I’m a big fan of the black lives matter movement. I teach microaggression awareness to folks in higher education to help us all become more aware of those unconscious things we say that are offensive to marginalized populations. Things like “Oh, you have Aspergers (ASD)? You seem so normal” or “You speak very well. How did you become so articulate” to a person of Asian descent? I am a liberal in my thinking and very much a fan of social justice.
So, my struggle centers around this special treatment we offer those who serve given we don’t make these same concessions for people like therapists, teachers, accountants helping the poor, doctors—you get it, insert your job here. That and I bristle at the idea my words of thanks are seen as a tacit approval to our military-machine of a political system. That and I don’t like people telling me who I have to thank.
And while I had gone along pretty well in my forty-five years with this philosophy, I had a bit of a change of heart while walking down this hallway tonight. Maybe this was one of those implicit bias blind-spots I teach about? Had a found something in my Johari window, 4th quadrant? What if military service members are marginalized in our population in the similar ways? That this societal acknowledgment of there services (which, BTW, I have never seen someone who served ask for or expect) is a version of recognizing their difference and experience. Perhaps simply thanking them is a way to attempt to see into their world and appreciate it always hasn’t been a good experience. Maybe acknowledging their work doesn’t need to be a bigger message or dilemma for me.
I think the fairly brutal Joyner Lucas video that dropped a few weeks ago is part of this as well. While not a perfect example (I have trouble with the video treating systemic racism as akin to white privilege frustration and how everything wraps up nicely at the end by just listening), I have been trying to look at things from a different point of view. The catch, I think, is seeing the group you are trying to understand and support as marginalized. With active service military and veterans, I think I am coming around. I still struggle with groups that aggressively push their agenda when they have the majority of support. But perhaps this statement is exactly at the heart of so many conflicts. I can see fundamentalists Christians and those standing for all lives matter saying the same thing, “We are the minority, we are the persecuted, you don’t understand us.”
So, for me, baby-steps. I’ll open my heart a bit more to the Veteran and active military. Try to understand their service through thanking them and let some of this bitterness go. Maybe see the culture of how veterans were treated after Vietnam as a driving force for this new, more positive view of our service men and women. Appreciating how the system treated them in the past as a small echo of what African Americans and other marginalized groups have experienced. Not the same, since some groups you opt into and others you don’t have a choice about, but wondering if there is a useful common ground for me here.
I’m not sure I’m ready to have a come-to-Jesus moment with the Christian right. I have too much frustration at how insidious their beliefs are to those who don’t conform to their teachings and how quick they are to label others as sinners. Having been in the those ranks, I can tell you a central teaching is to be aggressive in evangelism and conversion. That anything else is seen as lukewarm and against the scripture. But this about them right now. Its about me trying to grow some.
Talk less, listen more? I suppose that was the advice to Hamilton. Though, he didn’t take it. Though, he also got shot. No clear answer there.
So, to those who have served, thank you for your service. Truly.
(oh, my flask. Filled up with a nice cab from Lodi, CA. The federalist.)